Summer Reading

I hate vacations. There, I’ve said it.

It doesn’t help that I am not particularly fond of beaches (especially not the kind with people in them milling about), or that finding a halfway decent one for the kids apparently entails staying at a hotel that has slightly less cellular coverage than your average North Sea oil rig, serves loathsome deep fried, fatty food that feels like an experiment to improve their largely Western European and geriatric clientele’s tolerance to coronaries, and entertains the notion that yes, their guests enjoy having their kids kept up by loud (occasionally hideous, folk or both1) music throughout the evening.

I’m told I’m quite uncompromising regarding lodgings and that the kids are having insane amounts of fun (especially when they’re screaming their little lungs out while I try to coddle my permanent migraine) but in between having banged my left knee rather badly, practically starving and having my sinuses alternately baked outside and deep-frozen by the Ice Age-grade air conditioning, I shall withhold further opinion on the matter until next year, by which time I expect these paragraphs will help remind me of the folly I embarked upon.

So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I’ve read an awful lot in the past week. In fact, I’ve run down my battery once already, and that’s no mean feat. Besides a bunch of O’Reilly titles (including the massive Hadoop: The Definitive Guide, which I’m still endeavoring to finish), I’ve read something like fifteen books over the past week2, most of which I think are worth mentioning.

Ah, Mister Bond…

As a sort of prelude to Summer break I’ve been systematically going through Ian Fleming’s 007 books - I read Casino Royale a very long time ago and had faint recollections of a few other books, but this is the first time I’ve gone through the whole thing in sequence, and disregarding the unfortunate sexist and borderline racist passages now and then, it’s actually quite interesting - even if the stereotypes get boring every now and then, the novels are a decent counterpoint to the technical stuff I’ve been reading, and stand up remarkably well to the test of time.

Ship Breaker ★★★★

Paolo Bacigalupi’s way with dystopias shines through on this one, which I found a lot more enjoyable than The Windup Girl. It’s short, but memorable.

2312 ★★★

An interesting book with an exquisitely detailed background story (if you’ve read the Mars Trilogy, you know the kind of depth the author can come up with) that felt like it took an enormous amount of time to unfold the plot. In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have read The Martians (★★★★

The Long Earth ★★★★★

I usually avoid Baxter’s books because his plots are, in a word, boring. Far-ranging long-winded future visions are fine and good, but after a few unfathomably pointless ones, I started skipping his titles. Toss in Terry Pratchett, though, and you have a humorous and entertaining counterpoint that adds the right touch to make it all the more real.

And (without spoiling anything, I think), like some of the characters in the story itself, the resulting reading experience is a hallmark of fine, nuanced craftsmanship that you’ll thoroughly enjoy, as long as you keep trying to look around corners and (most importantly of all) don’t expect it to be like any of their other writing.

A Fire Upon The Deep ★★★

This turned out to be rather more intriguing and engrossing than what I expected, but you can only get so much entertainment from space opera, even with a medieval counterpoint.

The Recollection ★★

Another twisty approach to space opera, memorable only by the way it mixes and matches a number of ideas I’ve come across before.

Against Gravity ★★★★

Gritty, mostly unpredictable, and well put together. Most definitely not your usual science fiction dystopia, and worth a look if you like the style. The ending’s a bit of a surprise, but I thought it fitting.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms ★★★

A little too much fantasy for my taste, honestly - but a good book to while away a lazy Summer afternoon.

Zero Point ★★★★

Asher’s been building a new story arc, and this is a competent, engrossing follow up to The Departure.

  1. Also, their rock soloist is under the delusion that he is Bruce Springsteen. He most definitely is not, and would likely benefit from holding his guitar the right way round. ↩︎

  2. Remember, no coverage. I’m actually posting this from the parking lot, because I was going nuts trying to sync a measly 1KB file over what passes for 2G here. It’s so bad I’ve been thinking of making a break for it to more civilized environs. ↩︎